China Just Opened the Suez Canal of Our Era and No One Blinked

The Belt and Road comes to Turkey in a big way, but the West is too distracted to notice or care

“While China is spending trillions to revolutionize and expand global trade, Washington, with Europe following, is mesmerized by policies that restrict and criminalize such trade”

A hundred years from now, Donald Trump’s looming impeachment and Syria’s unending travails will be long forgotten. But just as we still celebrated the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869 without remembering who ruled Egypt at the time (Isma’il Pasha), China’s relentless and historically significant push to establish new trading links between East and West—links that promise to revolutionize the world trading system no less than the Suez Canal—will come to define our era. 

Two recent developments highlight how the new world is being invented by the Chinese—and how it will affect the Middle East and central Asia.

Last month, while Congress busied itself with impeachment hearings, a mammoth Chinese cargo train arrived in Turkey en route to the heart of Europe. It will be remembered as the first freight train to pass from China across central Asia and under the Bosphorus Strait, using the Marmaray tunnel as part of China’s historic Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Like the Suez Canal in its day, this “Iron Silk Road” through central Asia is a time saver, with the added bonus of circumventing sea routes now controlled by the West. It will reduce the transportation time between China and Turkey from one month to 12 days, while the entire journey from Xi’an to Prague in the heart of Europe will take only 18 days, half the time of a similar journey by sea and at similar cost. 

The Chinese revival of a 21st-century Silk Road reflects the emerging transformation of the central Asian nations along this route, which have long been eclipsed by a Western trading and commercial system that China is now challenging.

Turkey has become a central link in this “middle corridor,” which connects its eastern terminus Beijing to central Europe and ultimately London.

While celebrated in China and Turkey, its inauguration received little attention elsewhere, including in an inward-looking United States hypnotized by its own travails

This lack of interest was certainly not the case on November 17, 1869, when the wife of Napoleon III, Princess Eugenie, journeyed to Egypt to celebrate the opening of a canal. This historic shortcut reduced the maritime route between Europe and India by 7,000 kilometers, linking what was popularly understood as Mediterranean civilization to the Far East. The Canal revolutionized international trade and secured for its Western patrons—notably England—a century of imperial domination. It has been said, incorrectly it turns out, that Verdi composed an opera to memorialize the event. Even so, just the suggestion of such a linkage betrays the popular recognition of the significance of the new route.

When the Canal opened, China was the world’s largest economy. By 1890, the United States topped the list. India, then a British colony, was second, and the mother country itself, which had never been counted among the world’s richest nations, was third. This latter achievement was due in no small part to Suez, so important to Britain’s fortunes as a maritime colonial and commercial power that in 1875 it seized control of the company operating the Canal before occupying the entire country itself in 1881. Britain was ousted from its control of Suez only in 1956, when Russia and the United States joined an ultimatum that an exhausted London could not defy.

Less than a week after the train’s arrival last month in Istanbul, Chinese president Xi Jinping was in Greece, where Beijing’s flagship investment in the port of Piraeus—the Mediterranean terminal point of China’s quickly expanding “Maritime Silk Road”—was the centerpiece of a visit meant to advance a growing alliance between Beijing and Athens. China’s ownership of the port and its growing operations reflects its determination to make the once sleepy locale the largest maritime facility on the continent and the European anchor for China’s global network of trade and commerce.

China also sees its expanding relationship with Greece as a model for broader political and regional cooperation with what it calls the Central and eastern European Countries (CEECs).

“China will never ever seek hegemony and does not agree to a you-win-I-lose zero-sum game,” promised Xi—assertions that Greece is advised to believe at its own peril.

Already two years ago, Greece, for the first time, blocked a European Union statement at the United Nations criticizing China’s human rights record. When asked about Greece’s actions, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said: “We express appreciation to the relevant EU country for upholding the correct position.” He added:“We oppose the politicization of human rights and the use of human rights issues to interfere in other countries’ domestic affairs.”

These developments, and a host of similar Chinese initiatives around the globe, are not without their problems. The critiques of China’s lending practices and its corruption ring true, all the more so because, like the Belt and Road Initiative itself, China is treading a path blazed numerous times throughout history by nations on the make. The complaints from Western capitals about the perils of being seduced by China’s promises and cash may well be legitimate. Indeed it is only prudent to beware strangers—hailing from East or West—bearing gifts. The warnings issued by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo come clearly to mind in this context.

But such complaints, however valid, have the distinct odor of sour grapes from those whose reign is now being challenged by Beijing.

Indeed, while China is spending trillions to revolutionize and expand global trade, Washington, with Europe following, is mesmerized by policies that restrict and criminalize such trade. In its campaign against the foundations of an international trading system that’s enabled its own preeminence, Washington has even even set its sights on Suez and the long honored policy memorialized in the treaty of Constantinople guaranteeing unmolested passage through the Canal to all ships.

No nation has ever become great or cemented that greatness by destroying the foundations of the international system that enabled its ascendance. If this is to be Washington’s legacy, then the 100th anniversary of China’s Iron Silk Road will indeed be celebrated.

Source: The American Conservative

  1. StillSameTeddyfromCD says

    A retired cninese gen told America author writing an for attendingsalon..!AWRNCE ARMSTRONG in wrticle :WHAT REALLY APECHAPPENED IN BEIJING APEC (was it 2014?) THE WESTERN MSM DOESN.T WANT YOU TO KNOW”” in Beijing which Obama lectured asia follow the american way..(“and from polite Asians he left with nothing”)..

    “”WE are qt fault also..we allowed ourselves to become corrupte and vulnerable..and humiliated..we will never again permit ourselves tk ve conquered so easily…
    But as for the Criticism on silk roadsf t us just remember your own Hamlet..

    YET WE ljke to remember the old Arab saying from the ancient silk roads too…
    “”THE CARAVAN COMES..dogs bark and snarl…SOON THE CARAVAN MOVES ON..and rhe dogs howl at the wind..soon to be heard from no more””

    If he’s be..the Chinese will find a way to build stairway to the heavens …from there ..who knows..tra stormed even if need be…create a civilization looking down at earth…

    And going on with what they call “”THE HEAVENLY MANDATE”” ..BUT “China will be as she always has been..china” always striving for harmony and prosperity and stability.

    The rest of us can only wonder to accomplish that..

  2. Aurum Cimex says

    Sorry but I don’t believe that a container can be transported from China to Turkey by train at similar cost as by ship. Maritime transport is by far the most economical form of long distance bulk transport by a huge margin. A train can carry at most a couple of hundred containers whilst a ship can carry thousands. There is simply no way a rail line can compete on price (unless subsidised) or quantity.

    1. Tomislav Šantak says

      It might be more expensive but it is faster. And as we know time is money..

    2. Canosin says

      not believing is not knowing…..
      the time savings, halving the travel time is money….. besides…. the new railroads and modern trains are economical….. and easier to operate….
      you can be sure, that the Chinese have made their homework long before…. and thoroughly
      just for your information….. the longest train is operated with a lenght of more than 7 km….. you may google. ..

      1. CHUCKMAN says

        China is a world leader in many aspects of train technology.

        The amazing railway to Tibet. High-speed train networks – two-thirds of those in the entire world. New mal-lev trains. Etc.

        I’m confident they know what they are doing here.

      2. Aurum Cimex says

        It comes down to physics. Moving any given mass on water takes less energy than on land. That remains a constant no matter how much you may wish it isn’t. A 7km train would have 400 -500 containers and require 40-50,000 horsepower to move. (I note that the train you are refering to was tried in 2001 since when lengths have reduced for several reasons). Large containers ships carry in excess of 20,000 containers and use 70-80,000 horsepower (most of the time they run at 1/2 to 2/3 power unlike trains). Add to that the running costs and limitations of a double line of track 10000km long and the costs are hugely more. Land is certainly faster but much more expensive and for bulk goods time is not neccessarily money.

        1. StillSameTeddyfromCD says

          Study UZBEKSTAN..DOUBLE LAND LOCKED……the very heart of hearts of the ancient silk prospering like mad thriugh china s high-speed rail….ooint is…bottom line..WHATEVER WORKS..

          AND CHINA ..does it to crisscross LAND where its maritime silkmroad is threwtned by the anlog americans..


          china which created the integration the ENTIRE EURASIA…knows what to do…arguing about rolls is secondary..

          Another thing…chjna is abou ttonlauncha sbort riute for the moment..of train HYPERLOOPS..completely eliminating even rails..they just travel in a plasma tunnel that form as it goes.

          They jnow what they re doing..and are already planning for space sreally a. Ommand economy we know that..but one which is so is literally the creator of civilization s…

          Like turning huge swaths of desert into fertile soil….having long ago perfected the changing of GRASS..tiny seeds into now comes up with rice that grows in SALT water..”pddies”

          Let us just say..WE mostly of what by comparison are natjons thwt are mere children …do not comprehend the long vision of the Chinese mind.

          As an old forgotten Asian saying says (i am Filipino) ..WHERE CHINA POINTS..others follow..


        2. DarkEyes says

          Can you imagine the people in former days did such trade routes by camels, horses, etc.?
          How stupid, why not take the boat as in your discussion?
          The Chinese people have a lot of experience and believe me or not, chinese people are one of the best trading people on this planet.
          They must have done something quite right in the past.

          During their journey in the former days they were passing through many countries and places. Every country means business, don’t you think?

          Try the same trick with a container boat to enter every port on your route for a stop to do business, in between. No way.
          The boat’s route is from A to B and mybe C, D and E.
          And from Beijing to let say Turkey and everything in between is business-like more attractive for trade, I believe.
          BTW, diesel for locs is used I think. Climate Change madness is only in the West.

          Now they are going into rehearsel and with modern means.
          I personally believe it is a brilliant plan.

        3. Canosin says

          I appreciate your effort in lessoning me very much… never the less….. the comparison is academic discussion….. since I never compared the train capacity with a container ship….. however, the many trains…. with maximum capacity… is viable and strategically a perfect move

          1. Aurum Cimex says

            My point was cost. Cost is determined by capacity therefore my whole argument was that ships carry more for less. Strategically it is the right move but in no way is it viable to rely solely on railways to ship the quantity of goods the Chinese economy does. A very large continental power must have land routes and given the US hostility to China, Russia and their allies it is clearly sensible but that was never my point.

  3. Rowdy-Yates says

    What a fascinating story of a new “Suez Canal”. Looking back at history the Age of Discovery laid the path for Europe to become unbelievably rich and advanced mainly though the Age of Colonialism which was the result of those Discoverers.

    The age of Colonialism shifted the wealth and power from Asia to Europe and America. Now China’s silk roads which are based on the Age of Discovery is going to reverse that trend and shift the wealth and power back to Asia.

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